Cuban dissident Darsi Ferrer has been released from the Havana prison where he been held for almost a year. Cuban authorities conditionally released Ferrer after a visit from Vatican Foreign Minister Dominque Mamberti last week.
Ferrer was arrested July 21 2009 and was held on remand for more than 11 months. He was accused of illegally acquiring construction materials and attacking his neighbor who assisted the police in his arrest. On June 22nd, he was finally sentenced to one year and three months imprisonment, of which he will serve the remaining four months at home.
Amnesty International declared Ferrer a prisoner of conscience in December 2009 and has been pressing for his release ever since. As director of the illegal Juan Bruno Zayas Centre for Health and Human Rights in Havana, Ferrer became known in recent years for organizing meetings every December 10 - the International Day of Human Rights.
Upon his release, Ferrer told Radio Netherlands’ Pablo Gamez that he wants to continue his activities “now more than ever. Because of my life as a prisoner I became more conscious of the suffering of the Cuban people.”
You have just been released, after eleven months in imprisonment under horrible circumstances. Could you describe the circumstances of your time in prison?
The circumstances in the Cuban prisons are inhuman. They are overloaded and each prisoner has less than halve a square meter to live on. The corridors are overcrowded and a lot of prisoners are forced to sleep on the ground, because of a lack of beds. The food is scarce and has no nutritional value. Chicken is the only food that contains a bit of protein, which they only serve twice a month.
They don’t pay any attention to the prisoners and there is practically no medical help. I was located in one of the most severe prisons near Havana, together with two thousand other convicts. For these two thousand men, there were only six or seven doctors, and, for example, no possibility to realize blood tests, or to treat patients with diabetes. (…) Also for healthy prisoners it is hard to avoid illness considering the bad nutrition and the stress.
These miserable circumstances consequently lead to a lot of violence. Each week a bloody incident occurs, when prisoners are in conflict with sick people who are no longer accountable. Furthermore, all prisoners live under an inhumane military regime which damages their dignity. There is no medical or spiritual help. Prisoners are also frequently beaten up by soldiers.
The prisoners are completely defenseless. When a group of eight or ten soldiers is beating up a prisoner, people remain silent. They pick him up and throw him in a cell two by two square meter cell and leave him there for days.
Because of a serious lack of hygiene in the prisons, contagious diseases are spread, consequently causing epidemics.
Is there a relation between your recent release and the negotiation between the Catholic church and the Cuban regime?
I don’t think that my case is related to the conversations with the church. I was imprisoned for eleven months under inhumane and unjust circumstances because I was supposed to have committed a crime, while the whole world knows that I was imprisoned because of my political beliefs. I did not commit any crime and have been in detention on remand until I was sentenced, even though I was only accused of petty crimes. I was released now because there was no reason to keep me any longer.
I know from other prisoners who have been transferred that thanks to the negotiation of the church, political prisoners have been released. The church has also been successful in ending the repressive action against the “Damas en Blaco” or Ladies in white. I am aware of this and hope that this will not end yet. I am convinced that not only the church, but also the European Union, the Latin American governments, our own government, and in fact everybody with political influence, could help the Cuban people.
The Cuban people live in a hopeless situation. The system has failed and the regime can only react with more repression. This makes the people hopeless. The will to change and reform is growing. The prisons are full with people who only wanted to help and tried to support their families.
As an ultimate attempt to obtain justice and medical help, you started a hunger strike. What were the personal consequences of this measure?
This happens a lot out of powerlessness of the people, because in this country, all rights are abolished. I am definitely not the only one in prison who started a hunger strike. The desperation enforces us to take these kinds of measures, to penetrate to the heartless people of our country, in order to, like in my case, obtain medical help.
When I was released from Valle Grande, there were four other prisoners who were in a bad state of health because they had been on hunger strike for 12 to 13 days. These kinds of actions mostly lead to more repression by the military. They lock us up in the most horrible cells, without giving us even a bit of water. They threw me in a cell like that. Each day without water has worsened my health tremendously.
Could you explain more about the four prisoners you mentioned, who are still in a hunger strike?
I met the four men in person, but I had mainly contact with Osvaldo Sardia, a young humble black man, who came from the same cellblock as me.(…)
As a consequence of his hunger strike his life is in danger. He’s asks for his case to be reviewed. When he was arrested by corrupt soldiers, they asked him for money in exchange for his release. He refused and was sent to prison right away. This is only one example of a prisoner in a life threatening situation because of a hunger strike. (…) Personally, I suffered a lot because of my hunger strike. I have anaemia and my nerves are damaged.
What will you do now you are free?
I am reunited with my family again and I am very happy to see my wife, mother and daughters again. I keep fighting for the Cuban people. However, the happiness I experience now goes together with bitterness because I have seen the horrible conditions in which thousands of Cubans are imprisoned. Hundreds of them are political prisoners, who are undeservedly imprisoned because of their political beliefs. My time in prison has given me more energy to accomplish my promise. I will fight for the freedom of the Cuban people, in order that their rights will be respected. I am even more determined to fight for solutions, so that the Cuban people can live in a free and just country.